Internet for schools project to help bridge digital divide

In February, 1992, the Czech Republic was officially connected to the world-wide computer network, the Internet, which, back then, was a purely academic project. Now - ten years later - the Czech Ministry of Education has launched an ambitious project to connect all Czech schools to the web.

The project Internet for Schools aims to provide all state schools in the Czech Republic with computers and a connection to the Internet. The project also includes a special network called school intranet which will offer various services to schools and their students.

In the first stage of the project, the ministry of education is planning to equip around 3600 schools by the end of this year. The whole project will continue until 2005 when all primary and secondary schools in the Czech Republic should be equipped with basic information technology, a total of more than 25 thousand workstations and more than 2000 servers as well as laser printers.

Many Czech schools already have their own networks and there is a total of about a hundred thousand computers in the primary and secondary education system. Whenever possible, the current infrastructure will be integrated into the new school network. The first stage of the project focuses on schools which have either poor IT equipment or none at all.

As we've said, this project comes into being ten years after the Czech Republic was introduced to the Internet but the country is lagging behind the Western world in computer literacy. One of the reasons might be the non-existence of systematic education in this field. The coordinator of the project, Jakub Rainish, though, denies that it is coming quite late: According to recent statistics, only about a third of Czech adults use the Internet. It is hard to imagine that the situation is better among teachers, who are now expected to teach children how to use the Internet and use the Internet themselves in the education process. I asked the spokesman for the project, Jiri Chvojka, how the Ministry of Education was addressing this problem: The general supplier for the project is a consortium of the company AutoContOnline and telecommunications provider Czech Telecom. While the hardware will be supplied by different producers, the software, including the operating system and an office application package - comes from Microsoft. Representatives of the project argue that they wanted to choose a standard platform for the system to run on and that such a project is not a place for experimenting. I spoke to the Director of Microsoft in the Czech Republic, Jiri Devat, and asked him why his company was selected as a sole supplier of the software when there are competitive products, some of them produced in the Czech Republic, which are available for free. Devat_cut.wav 2'19